adidas gym shorts A big talent with bigger expectations
ANN ARBOR, Mich. Emoni Bates walks out a front door of Clague Middle School with just inches to spare.
A wide smile tops his 6 foot 7, extra lean frame. He’s holding a seventh grade honor society certificate in his right hand. His braces gleam in the afternoon sun.
Meet the best 13 year old basketball player in America, according to some recruiting services. One of his highlight reels on YouTube has been viewed about 1 million times.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Emoni insists in a voice just louder than a whisper, “because if I pay attention to it, it’s just going to get to my head.
“And I don’t want it to get to my head. Bates, has been around the game most of his life. He picked greens and baled hay as a kid in nearby Milan, Mich., then developed into a smooth shooting guard. But he didn’t take school seriously until it was too late. wound up going to Kentucky Wesleyan and settling for pro hoops in Switzerland. is determined to make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistake. The academics are a sign of that. House rules bar Emoni from picking up a basketball until his homework is done. knows when kids are this good this early, distractions roll in like waves. Already, it seems, lots of people want a piece of Emoni. Prep, private and public high school coaches are lining up. Colleges have him on their radar. DePaul took it a step further, offering Emoni a scholarship in late August. Two other much touted players in the Class of 2022 Amari Bailey of Illinois and Skyy Clark of California also have offers from DePaul. knows a shoe company and other hustlers looking to buy favors are lurking, too. So he and wife Edith, who works for the Red Cross, keep their inner circle very tight.
“I’m his coach to keep the snakes away,” Bates says, sitting on one of Clague’s concrete benches. “We’re not for sale.”
The Bates family has agreed to provide The Associated Press with a rare, behind the scenes look at the life of one of the most coveted basketball prospects in the country for at least the next five years. The periodic series will include video, photos, audio and text updates to track his progress.
Will Emoni stay near his current home to attend a public high school? Or will he take his next step at a private school like Detroit Country Day, like Michigan native Chris Webber?
Will he follow the footsteps of Marvin Bagley III and other five star prospects, reclassifying to finish high school in three years? Bagley did to play college ball at Duke this coming season and potentially to get a jump on a pro future. says all options are on the table. But he won’t be loud, unlike LaVar Ball in the lead up to his son Lonzo being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. says. “I let other people do all the talking about how good Emoni is because word of mouth is the best advertising there is.”
Emoni James Wayne Bates was born Jan. 28, 2004, at the University of Michigan hospital. He was on the light side 6 pounds, 7 ounces and a little long at 21 inches. Just over a year later, Emoni slept with his head cradled in his left arm and his right wrapped around a black and red basketball. A cherished photo was made.
“He would always sleep with the ball,” his father recalls, holding a framed picture in his Ypsilanti, Mich., home. “If the ball wasn’t around, he would cry about the ball. Even to this day, he has a mini ball he keeps with him, which is crazy to me.”
There were more hints. laughs, “so they couldn’t tell us.”
Emoni has shot up 7 inches in the last two years. He’s tall enough right now to play shooting guard at any level. He handles the ball like a point guard and launches 3 pointers like a savvy veteran. He can create his own shot like a wing or drive the lane and dish off to a teammate like another rail thin former prodigy, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant.
But adding weight and muscle is an ongoing challenge. He weighs just 155 pounds not heavy or strong enough to play a dominating inside game that would complement his fluid perimeter skills. sighs.
The Adidas Invitational in Fishers, Ind., attracts some of the Midwest’s top seventh grade AAU teams. can live up to the hype.
“They’ve been hearing a lot about him,” says Bernetta Kelly, watching her son’s Peoria Area Elite team take its shot.
Bates Fundamentals wins 95 44 and Kelly understands why. She approaches Emoni and asks for a photo with her son and his team.
“I’ve seen the best players from Pittsburgh to Vegas the last four years, and he’s been the best in his class,” Peoria coach Zach Martin says. “I told the guys, ‘There are not many times you will be able to say you played an NBA player, but you just did.'”
After another lopsided victory in the two day tournament won easily by Bates Fundamentals, Emoni walks off the court. A younger competitor darts out of his team’s pregame layup line to slap his hand. Moments later, the excitement follows Emoni out the door.